x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Hospital honours its little heroes

Dozens of children as young as 2 were the star guests at a special celebration at Dubai Hospital, with staff and parents praising their bravery during their battles with cancer.

Almost half of the 750 cases of childhood cancer the hospital has diagnosed since 1990 have been leukaemia.
Almost half of the 750 cases of childhood cancer the hospital has diagnosed since 1990 have been leukaemia.

DUBAI// A routine trip to hospital to have her daughter's fever and stomach ache examined changed the life of devoted mum Sakina.

Her little girl, Hina, 5, was diagnosed not with a tummy bug, but with cancer.

"We never suspected a thing," said the mum of two, from Pakistan. "She had a fever and a stomach ache but there weren't any other warning signs. I felt almost paralysed by hearing the word cancer."

Doctors diagnosed ALL - acute lymphoblastic leukaemia - in April 2011.

For almost 10 months, Hina was in and out of hospital and underwent a course of chemotherapy.

She is now in remission but requires monthly check-ups.

Hina is one of hundreds of children who have been successfully treated at Dubai Hospital's oncology department.

Dozens of victims, some as young as 2, were the centre of attention at the hospital yesterday, at a special ceremony to honour the bravery of childhood cancer survivors.

The oncology department, to which half of all cases of childhood cancer in the UAE are referred, has 12 doctors treating youngsters with different forms of the disease and working closely with their families.

They are led by Dr Abdulrahman Al Jassmi, consultant paediatrician and head of paediatric haematology and oncology.

"This celebration is for patients who were treated here," he said. "Many of the children who were treated by us have grown up to have successful careers and lives."

Sakina was full of praise for the treatment her daughter received.

"We initially went to a private hospital but they us advised to come here because of the oncology department," she said. "The treatment Hina has been given has been amazing."

Almost half of the 750 cases of childhood cancer the hospital has diagnosed since 1990 have been leukaemia. Eighty per cent were successfully treated.

"By far the most common cancer affecting children is leukaemia, but it is treatable and there is a high success rate," said Dr Al Jassmi.

He said 20 per cent of leukaemia sufferers received bone marrow transplants outside of the UAE as part of their treatment.

"We followed up these cases for five to 10 years and now they no longer need to visit us regularly," he said.

The hospital takes referrals from other emirates and countries.

"This is a tough battle and each of these patients and their family members have shown resolve and strength to overcome this disease," said Hussain Abdul Rehman, medical director of Dubai Hospital.

Speaking at the ceremony, one cancer survivor, Mariam Ahmed Tammam, 12, who was also an ambassador at the Arab Children Health Congress 2012, urged all members of society to work together to combat the disease.

"Family members, teachers, school administrators and peers should come together to support children suffering from cancer," she said.

Support groups for patients and their families can also play a vital role.

For the children who attended the celebration, the day marked the end of a long and difficult journey from diagnosis through months of intensive and exhausting treatment to remission.

"It's been difficult for Hina because she's a naturally outgoing person," said Sakina. "To be taken away from school and not be able to play has been very tough for her."

But with the hardest part of her treatment finally behind her, Hina, who revelled in decorating cupcakes with the other children yesterday, is now looking forward to living a normal life once again.

"I can't wait for mum to let me start school," she said. "I really miss my friends. I feel a lot better now."

nhanif@thenational.ae